A Writer’s Tool Kit: Keeping a Dream Journal

It’s been a while since I’ve done an entry in my Writer’s Toolkit Series. You can read the other posts here and here. Today I’m going to be talking about something that I have been regularly doing as part of my writing process for years.

I love dreams. I have always been a very lucid dreamer, and as I began researching dreams I’ve found ways to take advantage of my dreams. Several of my dreams have made their way into my books. In fact, one of my favourite series to write is based entirely on a single dream I had. For as long as I can remember, I have been keeping a dream journal.

Here are five of my reasons that I’ve found keeping a dream journal to be a useful habit as a writer:

1. I find the act of writing down dreams a helpful exercise in learning to be concise.
Dreams are often irregular and strange, and anyone who has tried to tell a dream to someone knows how bizarre they seem when remembered. Being able to move past the strangeness of the dream to the plot is essential to keeping a good dream journal and will help you as you go on to write one sentence hooks and blurbs for your books.

2. Keeping a dream journal becomes an active inventory of potential story ideas.
Sometimes I need inspiration. And I normally start by flipping through my dream journal. Even if I don’t take a story verbatim from the journal, there’s often an element, question or concept that I will find to help me as I work on new or old projects.

3. Your dreams are more likely to become structured and follow a cohesive plot.
Since creating my dream journal, I’ve noticed structure appear more frequently in my dreams. Some dreams are just bizarre. But sometimes dreams follow a plot that plays like it comes straight from a movie. As I’ve written down my dreams, forcing my brain to think about the dream in terms of story, my subsequent dreams are more likely to follow a plot or an order that makes a lot more sense when translated to the real world and my writing.

4. Dream journals are helpful for capturing the emotional tension of a situation.
I think compared to just thinking up a story or coming up with an idea, a dream provides a space where you can experience a certain emotional state whether that be happiness, sadness, or horror. I actually love nightmares because after they are done I can work to try to pinpoint what exactly made the episode so terrifying to me, how I reacted in the dream, and how my body reacted in the dream, and then of course, how I can take that emotional distress and apply it to my characters.

5. Dream journals are the gateway to lucid dreaming.
I’ve found I’m inclined to lucid dreaming, that is, becoming aware of the fact that you are dreaming mid-dream and subsequently being able to control elements of the dream. Keeping a dream journal is one of the commonly used methods to help your brain recognize when you dream. Once in a lucid dream, it is like being able to pause time and walk through a scene in order to understand it from different perspectives. I also find that I can rewind my actions to a certain extent, allowing me to experiment with different reactions and outcomes of an event. This saves time when I’m writing because I have seen the way various actions could affect the plot of my story.

Taking dreams seriously and approaching them methodically has allowed me to essential think of potential story ideas in 3D. By being able to actually live through and experience some of the plot elements and emotional states, I’m able to apply what I’ve learned while sleeping to the writing I do in my waking life. I encourage you to take advantage of the highly underrated, but extremely rich landscape of dreams.

Do you have vivid dreams? Do you keep a dream journal? Has it helped your writing?

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